‘Christie,’ I warned him, ‘it does not seem to me possible to take this novel much further. I’m sorry.’
‘Don’t be sorry,’ said Christie, in a kindly manner, ‘don’t be sorry. We don’t equate length with importance, do we ? And who wants long novels anyway ? Why spend all your spare time for a month reading a thousand-page novel when you can have a comparable aesthetic experience in the theatre or cinema in only one evening ? The writing of a long novel is in itself an anachronistic act : it was relevant only to a society and a set of social conditions which no longer exist.’
‘I’m glad you understand so readily,’ I said, relieved.
‘The novel should now try simply to be Funny, Brutalist, and Short,’ Christie epigrammatised.
‘I could hardly have expressed it better myself,’ I said, pleased, ‘I’ve put down all I have to say, or rather I will have done in another twenty-two pages, so surely. . . .”
‘So I do go on a little longer ?’ interrupted Christie.
‘Yes, Christie, you go on to the end,’ I assured him, and myself went on : ‘Surely no reader will wish me to invent anything further, surely he or she can extrapolate only too easily from what has gone before ?’
‘If there is a reader,’ said Christie. ‘Most people won’t read it.’
‘Politicians, policemen, some educators and many others treat “most people” as idiots.’
‘So writers may too ?’
‘On the contrary. “Most people” are right not to read novels today.’
‘You’ve said all this before.’
‘I’m very likely to say it again, too, since it’s true.’
A pause. Then suddenly Christie said :
‘Your work has been a continuous dialogue with form ?’
‘If you like,’ I replied diffidently.
‘Only one of the things it’s been,’ said Christie generously. ‘It’s something to aspire to, becoming a critic ! Though there are too many exclamation marks in this novel already.’
Another pause. One of the girls in what is ill-reputed to be a brothel opposite hung out the shirt of what might be her ponce. Christie smiled gently, turned back to me.
‘But I am to go on for a while ?’
‘Of course,’ I assured him again.
‘Until I have everything ?’
‘Yes, Christie, until you have everything.’
The excerpt above is the complete text of Ch. XXI of B.S. Johnson’s 1973 novel, Christie Marly’s Own Double-Entry. The title of the chapter is “In which Christie and I have it All Out; and which You may care to Miss Out.” The chapter begins with this epigraph:
. . . the novel, during its metamorphosis in respect of content and form, necessarily regards itself ironically. It denies itself in parodistic forms in order to be able to outgrow itself.
Válságés regény (p. 101)
Akadémia (Hungary) 1970
transl. by Novák Gyorgy
This particular chapter might stand as a synecdoche of Christie Marly’s Own Double-Entry itself.